Week In Politics: Obama's Jobs Speech

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Melissa Block speaks with our regular political commentators E.J. Dionne, of the Washington Post and Brookings Institution, and David Brooks, of the New York Times. They discuss President Obama's jobs speech, and how the jobs issue is playing on and off the campaign trail.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Between the president's speech last night and the Republican presidential candidates' debate the night before, there is a lot to talk about with our regular Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of the New York Times. Hi. Welcome back.

DAVID BROOKS: Thanks.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to be here.

BLOCK: We heard Scott Horsley mention the call last night that the president made repeatedly - pass the jobs bill right away. It was also his theme on the road today in Virginia. Let's listen to a bit of his message to voters in Richmond.

President BARACK OBAMA: If you want teachers in the classroom, pass this bill. If you want small business owners to hire new people, pass this bill. If you want veterans to get their fair share of opportunity that they helped create, pass this bill. If you want a tax break, pass this bill.

BLOCK: Pass this bill, maybe that mantra becomes the 2011 version of yes we can for the Obama campaign. E.J. Dionne, if people last night were hearing a feistier President Obama, today he seemed to amp it up even more. Are you hearing a fundamentally new tone coming from President Obama?

DIONNE: It is a new tone and I think the best part of the speech reflected in that speech today, again, is that it wasn't, oh, I'm gonna negotiate with Speaker Boehner or, well, we can work this all out. No, it was pass this bill which was full of ideas Republicans had favored in the past. And so it was essentially asking the Republicans, what's your problem? And I think what's interesting here is that you have - David wrote nicely about the bill, Paul Krugman wrote nicely about the speech.

BLOCK: On the same page.

DIONNE: Yeah, on the same page. I liked the speech. How do you explain this? Mark Schmitt, a good writer, wrote a piece in The New Republic this morning where he talked about the fighting bipartisan. And I think people like David look at this and say, these are broadly bipartisan ideas, the people who wanted Obama to face up to the Republicans said, good, he's finally doing it. And the thing was bigger than the White House was leaking. I can't help but believe that was no accident.

And so liberals were reassured that he made it bigger than they thought it would be.

BLOCK: Well, David Brooks, what do you think? Is the president's message to Congress, as E.J. is saying, pass this jobs bill, take it or leave it, my days of negotiating are over? If you reject this, I'm gonna lay that failure at your feet. You will be, as Harry Truman said, the do-nothing good-for-nothing Congress.

BROOKS: Yeah, I'm not sure it's gonna be take it or leave it. I think the Republicans will accept some of the ideas. Some of them, they won't. The big question now is, a week from now, if he's gonna actually pay for it. He said, he more or less promised he would pay for - if he tells Congress, well, you guys figure out how to pay for it, then it's pretty much dead. But I think what was good about the bill - first, I liked the fact that he was leading from the front.

It wasn't like health care. It wasn't like the first stimulus bill where he said, you guys come up with something, I'll support it. And the second thing is, he really did take some proposals that were pretty moderate, even though the tone was so aggressive and pleased E.J. so much, the proposals were pretty moderate - infrastructure spending, payroll tax deductions. Those are indeed moderate proposals. I'm not sure how effective they are as stimulus, but the bottom line is we should all be extremely nervous about the economy right now, the threat of a double-dip.

And so everybody has to take doing something quite seriously.

DIONNE: And I think that's why it went over with people like David, who weren't so sure about stimulus before as you have the change in the economy that everybody's got to confront now. Even if some people fought it, this is what was happening. Two dangers I see, one is that Republicans could pass some of it but not all of it. So we could be big enough so it looks like they're doing something, but not so big that it has any real effect.

The other is they could fill it with poison pills. Okay, we'll pass the president's program, but here are a whole bunch of regulations on environment or labor that Obama's actually for and they throw those in the bill and call it bipartisan. So it's going to be tricky, that kind of maneuvering. We will back to Washington sausage-making.

BLOCK: Well, it is interesting because we have heard some notes of bipartisanship, coming at least from the Republican leadership saying there are parts of this plan from the president that they like. We did see this before, though, that the Republican leadership thought they were working out a deal with the administration and then they backtracked when the Tea Party wing cried foul. Where does this end up, David?

BROOKS: Yeah, there are a lot of these things - the Tea Party wing, a lot of them are small business owners and the idea of a payroll tax reduction is probably good for them. I think even if you talk to a lot of Tea Party members, as I have about infrastructure spending, a lot of them are for that. And so these are not particularly controversial, if they're willing to be for anything.

I think the legitimate doubts is - are they stimulative? We may be entering a double dip recession right now. Infrastructure spending will take months and months, potentially a year to get on board. Is that really going to be stimulative? There are legitimate questions to be asked about that. But on the other hand, I do think Obama threw things in their face that they have no principled reason to be against - at least some of the things.

BLOCK: E.J., we've heard the response from the Mitt Romney campaign to the president's speech. They said you're 960 days too late. Has the damage been done? Is this a speech that should have been made quite some time ago, before the whole debt ceiling mess?

DIONNE: I think the speech should have been a long time ago. And I think that the president was responding in the speech to the fact that he lost the thread of the argument. He let the Republicans control our national argument and make it all about deficit reduction for month after month after month. And so, yes, he should have given this speech a while ago.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that a lot of the conservatives who might be open to at least some of this stuff now would have been open to any of this if you hadn't had the jitters and the stock market gyrations of the summer. I mean, a lot of people who weren't really in favor of any kind of stimulus were saying - although we don't use that word anymore, notice he used jobs, jobs, jobs, not stimulus. But a lot people are saying we need this now.

BLOCK: I want to talk to you both about the Republican presidential debate on Wednesday night, the first debate that included Texas Governor Rick Perry. And he, notably, did not back off his earlier statement that Social Security is, as he refers to it, a Ponzi scheme. In fact, he repeated that same claim several times. David Brooks, did Rick Perry help himself in that debate or hurt himself?

BROOKS: A little of both. He helped himself. He was phenomenally good when on offense. He's one of these guys that when he's leaning forward, attacking someone, he's quite forceful and quite good. He's quite bad at doing defense and doing geniality. And so, he did quite poorly in those things. I suspect they'll give better answers on the theory of global warming and on Social Security, but he was quite poor.

It was I think a window into his character at what he's good at. And so, there were certain answers will make Republicans extremely happy. So on net, I think he helped himself - not as much as Mitt Romney did - but he did fine.

BLOCK: E.J.?

DIONNE: I think, first of all, on the substance, this is a very right wing group that the whole idea was cut taxes, slash spending, junk regulations. And the number of things - claims were made that weren't true.

On the politics, I think Mitt Romney was the net winner by far. First of all, people had doubts: could Mitt Romney get off this frontrunner strategy? Yes, he could. Could he go after Rick Perry? Yes, he did. And he went after him on Social Security. And guess what? Republican primary voters are considerably older than the average American. That was exactly the right issue to attack on.

BLOCK: Okay, thanks to you both. Have a good weekend.

DIONNE: You, too.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLOCK: E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and David Brooks of The New York Times.

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